When Google announced it will start favouring websites that use SSL, it came as quite a surprise to many. Google is usually very quiet about how it ranks websites, but it clearly wants more websites to start using SSL, even if it is technically unnecessary. For this reason, Google broke their tradition on algorithm secrecy and announced in August websites that use SSL will benefit from a tiny boost in search rankings.
While this does not mean your website will jump up in search results on this ranking signal alone – and many people assumed this to be the case when Google first announced it – anyone serious about their website rankings will want to pay close attention to this. Without a doubt, some of your competitors will have already enabled SSL across their website and received a tiny boost over yours.
How does it work?
First, it is important to remember this ranking signal is not part of Panda or anything else Google uses to rank websites. This ranking signal is entirely independent in itself and is performed live on websites each time Google crawls them. Perhaps most importantly, it is individual URLs that use SSL that benefit from this signal, not the entire website.
What this means is, you do not need to migrate your entire website over to HTTPS if the migration needs to take time and be done in stages. When Google next visits your website, any areas it is crawling that is protected over a HTTPS connection covered by a valid SSL certificate will benefit from a small boost in the pages’ overall rankings. It might be the extra boost a page on your website needs to go up in search results; but in most cases, it will be more of a contribution than anything else towards your pages’ overall ranking, which will still be beneficial to you.
The unnecessary argument
You might be wondering whether this is entirely necessary on many websites that are simply just a blog or an information website. Really, the answer is yes and no. Yes, because you are securing your visitor traffic from prying eyes and content delivery manipulation; and no, because your visitors are not sending anything sensitive like debit card details or personal information that HTTPS strongly calls for. Clearly, Google views this problem in the former camp – in other words, visitors will still benefit from more secure and private browsing if more and more websites use SSL by default.
Since this signal was first announced, many websites have indeed been switching over to HTTPS connections to take advantage of the small boost it provides to their rankings.